Thoughts after the Austrian election result

A generation from now, maybe two, we will look back and see the 2010s as the beginning of mainstream politics’ death.

Mainstream politics is dying. And it isn’t going to be a slow, drawn out death, a gradually-developing tumour that corrupts the base of establishment politics and brings it down cell by cell over decades or centuries. It will be a quick death. In fact, it may well be a car crash.

Across the Western world, voters are beginning to reject the establishment and the mainstream politics it has for so long endorsed. Whether we look at Austria, Spain, France, or even the bastion of status quo mainstream politics that is the USA, people are turning away from the same old same old that has dominated the West since the end of WWII.

And it is precisely that timeframe which should make us worried.

Whilst the rejection of establishment politics is beneficial to those further to both the left and right than the mainstream, it seems to me as if the far right is doing more than the left to capture the minds of the – to use a surprisingly establishment piece of political jargon – “disenfranchised”. We need look no further than UKIP’s rapid rise in this country for proof of this.

Unfortunately, the current far right tactic of scaremongering and demonising is, for many, a lot easier to swallow and a lot more inspiring than the left’s idealistic promises and progressive policies. And it’s not hard to see why.

By scapegoating and demonising, promising crackdowns and offering dreams of the good old days when [insert country] was about being [insert nationality], and everybody shared [insert nationality] values, the right has conjured an associative nostalgia based on the basic notion that [insert country] was and would again be better off on its own, without any foreign influences or anyone from the outside or any namby-pampy loony-lefty utopianism.

I mean, come on, you remember those values, right?. Man, I love those values. Those were good times, weren’t they? With the values and the nationality and the pride we all had. Back then, in the Good Old Days, we didn’t have any foreigners invading Our land and nobody told Us how to run Our country. Don’t you miss those days?

Currently, the left’s alternative isn’t quite as catchy or as easily palatable. Suggesting radical new change taking us further away from the current establishment instead of harking back to the establishment we used to have is a bit more difficult to get on board with for many. While the right proposes going back to what we know and what we’ve done before, the left proposes a bold new frontier, a leap into the relative unknown. And convincing people to make that leap isn’t exactly easy, especially when they’ve been used to standing still for so long.

And yet, while people are perhaps not quite leaping yet, they are certainly starting to take a run at the chasm that has opened up before them. Nowhere is this more evident than the USA, where, despite the headlines of Trump’s bigotry, there have been monumental gains for Sanders. If the left can make such gains in a country where socialism is still something of a dirty word, then surely it is not long before the rest of the West embraces it. To what extent it does so remains to be seen. The right may be winning the race at the minute, but there’s plenty of time for the left to catch up.

There is no question, in my mind, that radical change is coming. What is yet to be decided is exactly what form this change will take. The battle for this change will probably be bloody and it will definitely be hard-fought. But if enough is done to promote a politics of new hope instead of one of fear, then we can raise a phoenix from the ashes of mainstream politics.

 

Not Here

(Scene 1. One audience member sits down in a chair. Opposite them is a chair, in which JAMIE is sat. The chair has the backdrop of an A&E department and is on the same level as the audience member. Throughout the performance, JAMIE maintains eye contact with the audience member (apart from when talking to other characters or specified otherwise). At the end of each paragraph, a slight pause is left before the next begins. A spotlight comes down on the chair)

JAMIE            Hello? Hey. Yeah, hi, nice to see you again.

(He leans forward and extends a hand towards the audience member, waiting for them to shake it before continuing)

Well, you know, maybe not here, but still. How have you been? (Pause) Yeah, not too bad, thanks. Family stuff’s been a bit… (He slouches back in his chair.) With Rowan, you know. But it is what it is, I suppose, can’t do much about it. (He sits back upright and begins again quickly) Anyway, what are you here for? (Pause) Oh, how annoying. Broken toe, myself. First day of the season as well, can you believe it? That’s two months of training wasted. Oh well, can’t do much about it.

Yeah. (He breaks eye contact) I’m fine. Thanks for asking.

                     (Resumes eye contact, is eager to change subject) They drove me here in an ambulance and everything, you know. Apparently it’s quite a bad break so they didn’t want me walking over, but I’m sure I’ll be back to normal soon enough. (Lightheartedly) I reckon it’s bad enough to stop me helping Charlie out around the house though.

                     (Seriously) Mind, I don’t think she’ll be very pleased when I let her know she’ll have to help me get around for a couple of weeks. Yeah, I mean…she won’t mind, obviously. It’s just an extra thing for her to have to deal with at the minute. I don’t think she’s coping very well with the whole Rowan thing.

                         (Dismissively) I mean, it’s nothing really, she’s just being kinda distant. And whenever I try to talk to her about it she pushes me away and snaps at me. I don’t know. I mean I know that’s not really important in the grand scheme of things but it’s just been getting to me a little bit these past few weeks.

(He breaks eye contact again, looking away and chewing his lip. A small child – ROWAN – runs on stage and stands next to JAMIE. He looks at them and half-smiles. He looks back to the audience member)

  I’m fine though, really. Yeah, no, don’t worry about me. Things will be fine. Things are fine. Yeah, really, things are good. I mean, my toe hurts, but that’s not much to complain about, is it? Things are good. Aren’t they, Rowan? (He holds out his hand to the child. The stage goes dark)

(Scene 2. JAMIE’s chair is turned inwards. Another chair is brought on by the DOCTOR, who places it opposite JAMIE’s chair and sits down in it, facing him. ROWAN is stood next to JAMIE, holding his hand. Spotlights above each of the chairs come on)

DOCTOR        And while you’re here I’m going to prescribe you some sertraline, as well.

JAMIE            What’s that?

DOCTOR        It’s an anti-depressant.

JAMIE            Oh. Right.

DOCTOR        You said last week you felt like your wife wasn’t supporting you?

JAMIE            Yes.

DOCTOR        That she was being distant, pushing you away, not listening to you?

JAMIE            Yes.

DOCTOR        So you felt like you were on your own.

JAMIE            Yes.

DOCTOR        And you also said you felt down about the situation with little Owen here.

JAMIE            R- Yes. Yeah. Yeah, I guess I have been feeling kinda down lately.

DOCTOR        Well this should help with all that. Especially the loneliness.

(The spotlight on the DOCTOR goes off, leaving JAMIE and ROWAN in light)

JAMIE            Oh, right. Yeah. I’m alone.

(JAMIE’s chair remains lit for two seconds, before the spotlight

goes off)

 

(Scene 3. The DOCTOR takes off his chair and exits. JAMIE is stood up at the back of the stage, holding hands with ROWAN. They walk slowly towards the front of the stage, a spotlight following them)

ROWAN         Why has Daddy got tablets? Is Daddy ill?

JAMIE            No, Rowan, Daddy’s not ill. Daddy’s fine.

ROWAN         I have to take tablets like that, don’t I? (They stop walking. Rowan looks up at JAMIE.) Am I ill, Daddy?

(The spotlight stays on for two seconds before going off)

(Scene 4. JAMIE is sat in the chair at the front of the stage, facing towards the audience member. ROWAN is stood next to him. The spotlight comes down on JAMIE)

JAMIE            I don’t know. I mean, things aren’t bad. It is what it is, you know, like I said. There’s not much I can do about it really. Just hope things work themselves out. (He looks at the packet of pills he has been prescribed) Oh, these? (He lifts them up momentarily) Nothing. Just painkillers.

It’s fine, things’ll be back to normal soon enough. I’ll be back to normal soon enough. And you will too, won’t you, Rowan?

(JAMIE looks at ROWAN. There is a silent pause. He looks back to the audience member)

Anyway, it was nice seeing you again. I hope everything’s all right with you.

                 (The stage goes dark)

                (END)

 

Clarity

I ran for the bus. It wasn’t leaving, I just had to get away again. I heard voices shouting after me but I didn’t want to listen to them.

I scanned for a safe spot amongst the 12 people I had counted in front of me. I settled on a seat on the right hand side as I looked, nearer the back, identical in every way to all the other seats – a lurid pattern of hexagons smothered over it, holes emerging in the cheap fabric. I folded up the ticket I was still holding in my gloved hand and placed it in my back pocket with several other folded tickets. I slid myself downwards, using the pole to lower myself into as comfortable a position as I could manage.

I sniffed and breathed out several long sighs of cold. I took off my gloves and brushed the strands of hair that were protruding from my bobbled hat back from where they had escaped. I knew I should probably take off my hat too because Sam said I shouldn’t wear it indoors, but I was cold and I didn’t want to take it off because I didn’t have a pocket to stuff it in and so I’d have to perch it on my lap. And I didn’t want to do that in case it fell on the floor of the bus and got dirty. So I didn’t. Plus Sam said a lot that I didn’t like to take much notice of.

The bus was moving now, taking the station out of sight and progressing into the city. I liked the view on the M79, especially at this time of evening. Nobody seemed to be appreciating it – everybody was resting their eyes or talking on the phone to Lucy about what Sally had done yesterday and how they just couldn’t believe it. So I looked on my own. Stars poked through the darkening sky. The moon washed over the city, mixing with shop lights and car beams and lampposts. Last time I ran away it wasn’t nearly this dark.

I settled in my seat and moved my hand to my pocket, reaching for my ringing phone. I pulled it out and brought it to my face, finger on the power button. I read the name. I pressed the button. Sam. I didn’t want to talk to her, not right now. Not for a while.

I pushed the phone back. The bus stuttered to a halt and I thrust out a hand to halt my momentum. I reeled it back in, via the escaped hair under my hat again. Another hand stretched out, grasping the pole by my chair. A body swung round it, a face glanced over mine, stray knees bumped.

“I’m sorry,” I said, although I wasn’t sure exactly why.

“Sorry,” said my new companion. I looked over at the face as it spoke. It wasn’t an unkind face: slightly round, crimson-tinted cheeks on dark skin, thick lips slightly chapped by the harsh night air. The bus jolted back into its journey, jostling through the traffic. I returned to window-gazing and peering through hazy lights and frosted windows and into the lives of adjacent car-drivers. A woman in a suit drove home from a long day at the office and an elderly man crept towards the comfort of his family and a mother turned around in her seat, looking at her children in the back, although I couldn’t tell whether she was joining in with their joke or chastising their bad behaviour. I thought of Sam. I pushed hair under hat again.

“Busy, isn’t it?” asked round-face.

“Hmm? Oh. Yeah, it is.” Nobody had ever really spoken to me on the bus before. I tried to be polite. Sam always said I should try to do that, although she never seemed to bother with me. “I don’t know why, it isn’t normally busy at this time.”

“Cold weather, I suppose.” I turned to look at the round face, getting a proper view of her for the first time. Her black hair straddled slightly broad shoulders and covered a short neck, resting over the top buttons of a shirt. “Plus I suppose everybody wants to get back to their families this time of year.”

“Is that what you’re doing?”

“No, not me. Night shifts.” She lifted up a flask and a tupperware and asked if I was on my way home.

“Not exactly,” I said. I wasn’t sure how much it was polite to share. “I like the bus, it helps me clear my head.” I wasn’t changing the subject. I tried not to think of the broken wine glass.

“It gives you time to reflect, doesn’t it?” She poured coffee into the cup of her flask and pressed it to her lips, sipping carefully so as not to spill any when the bus jerked. The city passed by in the window, shops, restaurants, houses. She swallowed, tilted her head to the side, raised her eyebrows slightly; “Though I don’t know if that’s always a good thing.” She let out a timid laugh.

We sat in silence for a while after that, but the physical company itself made me feel better. In front of us, I watched cars inch past traffic lights and heard their horns blare. “I hope this traffic doesn’t make me late,” said the woman. I said I hoped it didn’t either. The strand of hair had escaped from under my hat again. I decided to take it off and just hold onto it so that it didn’t slip onto the floor. I thought of the broken wine glass and what Sam had said about going to see a doctor.

I watched the woman take another sip, finishing what she had poured and screwing the lid back on at the second attempt. She put the flask between her legs and shook hair off her face, revealing eyes focused on me.

“I like your hat,” she smiled.

“Thank you,” I replied, thumbing the bobble and trying not to look embarrassed – I couldn’t remember anybody ever complimenting my clothes like that before. “Sam bought it for me for Christmas. Last Christmas, I mean.”

“Who’s Sam?” Suddenly I thought it looked ugly and cheap and childish. The bus swung round another corner. I traced a hand over the bruise emerging on my temple, hoping the woman wouldn’t see and ask any more questions.

I was about to introduce myself when the woman pressed a finger to the stop button and told me this was her, so then I didn’t see the point anymore. I suppose there wouldn’t have been much point anyway.

The bus slowed outside a great industrial estate. It looked bleak. I thought that the woman deserved to work somewhere nicer, and then I thought maybe she liked working there.

“Well it was nice meeting you,” she said, her round face curving into a smile. “I hope you get to clear your head.”

“Thanks,” I said. I breathed out. I fingered my bruise. “I’m sure I will.” I watched her walk off the bus and into her life.

After that, the journey seemed boring. Buses never bored me, but the rest of this journey did. I looked at the people in the cars and they all seemed fake, their lives distant, their connections unreal, their emotions fabricated. A man got off at the next stop and said “Thanks, mate,” to the driver even though he didn’t know the driver at all, and might never have seen him before. Somebody else came and sat next to me. I said hi and smiled, but they barely looked at me. Night began to obscure the view.

By the time it was the stop I wanted I was already standing at the front of the bus. My stop was the one furthest from the house and furthest into the outside and furthest away. I stepped off and pulled on my gloves and begrudgingly replaced my hat. I took in the surroundings, despite having seen them all before: wind whistled through tree branches, exhaust trails contaminated the smell of pine needles, the path home stretched out, beckoning, like it always did.

I checked my phone. Three missed calls. I wondered how long it would take me to walk to the industrial estate, but I knew I couldn’t go now. Wind bit the back of my neck and cold attacked my toes.

My phone started ringing again. I hovered my finger over the power button. Sam. I thought of my new friend, although I didn’t know them at all and might never see them again. I thought about the glass and the doctor and clearing my bruised head and how angry Sam would be if I wasn’t back soon. A bus drove past, full of people. I saw a black haired woman chatting and laughing with someone.

“Hello Sam.” Hair, hat, again. I looked ahead and breathed out and started walking. “Nowhere. I’m sorry.”

 

The Pier

I got up from the desk, put down my pen and gazed out of the window. The sun was still emitting a comforting light and the room was draped in soft swathes of radiance. I turned away from the sight and walked out of the room. I descended down the stairs, and waited for her to knock at the door. I was not waiting long.

She didn’t even bother for me to answer, she just knocked and walked straight in.  

“Hey,” I said. I didn’t trust myself to say anything more as a greeting.

“Come on, we need to go now if we want to make the most of the sun,” she told me, grabbing me by the wrist and dragging me towards the door.

“Um,” I stuttered, “could we not spend a bit of time out in the garden? We’ve got a picnic?”  

“No time!” It was decided. No time. We trundled on, down the pathway, her leading the way.

“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” I asked.

“Of course I do!” Her arm reached down from above – she was taller and older than me – and grabbed mine again. “I’ve done this before, you know. I do know how to get you there.” I remained sceptical. I would’ve gone a different way to get to the beach, but she probably knew best. She started to break out into a jog, giggling irresponsibly despite her sense of urgency. I slipped my arm out from her grasp. I preferred the laidback stroll to the frantic run.

I looked back at the house, at the garden, and for a moment, she disappeared into a blur, the evening shadows concealing her. Then she returned. Once more, she seized my arm, and I was forced to run the rest of the way to the beach.  

We staggered onto the sand. It was heavy beneath our feet, and we were forced to slow down. As we walked along the beach, the sunset blazed red over the rippling waves. I hated myself for it given how she’d ignored my earlier requests, but I reached, yearned for her hand and uncurled its fist, interlocking our fingers and pulling her closer to me. I needed her support.  

A lighthouse illuminated the pier at the other end of the beach. The pier – our goal – was a fair distance away, and my whole body was already aching: my legs from running, my hands from writing, my head from thinking. My heart.

My spirit carried me, my willingness, my knowledge that this pier promised to bestow upon me the greatest experience of my life to date. Or rather, that was the expectation she had passed onto me. We walked together.

The waves crashed their way up the beach, tearing grains of sand back to their watery home. A crab moved in the distance, scuttling sideways, snapping its claws as it passed us. Sideways it continued.

“Are you sure about this?” I asked.

“Surer than I’ve ever been about anything in my entire life,” she assured.  

I wasn’t convinced, but I was needed by her for this. We were needed by each other. We walked on, listening to the sea continue its infinite life, mechanically breathing in, monotonously breathing out, moving forwards, moving backwards, soothingly and yet unnaturally being as steady as it ever had and ever would be, never changing, never growing or shrinking or caring or hurting, just  being. How blissful that must have been. How unsettling it was.

The pier seemed further away than ever in my mind – or did I just want that to be the case? She turned to me; “Race?” she demanded. I loosened the grip of my hand. She started running, running quickly, so far away from me, her hand so detached from mine, becoming an illusion. I wasn’t ready, but I followed. I had to.

“What are you doing?” I cried. What was she doing? I hated the idea of running. I wanted to savour the walk, the cold air biting at our fingers, the wind messing up our hair, all the little imperfections that somehow added to its beauty. This journey should have been slow and precious. I wanted to tell her all of this, but I couldn’t, and I didn’t, and even if I had then she wouldn’t have listened. I just followed her.

So we ran, into the night, into the intensifying darkness. I had no idea what was ahead of me, but I knew with absolute certainty that I would reach it. Looking over my shoulder, I could see the lights from the houses behind me. A swing in a garden swayed in the wind, rocking gently back and forth. A rich brown, its wooden frame stood sturdily.  

I turned around. We were there. The pier. The great structure stood in front of me, and I noticed all the things I couldn’t from far away: the wood rotting away in places, barnacles infesting the lower echelons of the legs… How promising it had looked from afar, how disappointing it was up close. She climbed up onto the pier.

“Isn’t it fantastic?” she asked from above me.

“It’s kind of,” I paused, “stale, don’t you think?”

“Stale?! I think it’s beautiful. Do you really think it’s that bad?”

“Yup.”

“Well then you’re wrong.” And that was the end of it. It was beautiful. Not decaying or infested or stale. Beautiful. It had been decided.   

We walked to the edge of the pier and looked out across the vast, endless sea. She reached for my hand. I didn’t want to take it, but I still did.

“Ready?” she inquired. I wasn’t, but it made no difference anyway. We stepped back together and took in the surroundings. Millions of stars were beginning to show themselves. The two of us looked up at them.

We ran towards the end of the pier. I let go of her hand.

I jumped, unknowing, into the sea, into the darkness, on my own.  

 

Forest

A tree stands in a forest, alone.

To its side, a different tree falls. A regular and consistent occurrence in the forest. The forest prospers.

No breeze can be felt, but the tree’s leaves shake. They are always shaking; sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes visibly.

The tree’s vast root system stretches out around it for miles. For years it has been intertwining with the roots of other trees, although ultimately always ending up untangled, on its solitary path towards- well, towards nothing, really. The tree is unsupported.

A breeze breathes. A branch wobbles. A seed detaches itself from the branch. It begins its journey towards the earth below it. Plummeting, the seed slows down. It wills itself onwards. The tree looks on nostalgically. It would have a thing or two to say about that fall. But then again, so would that fallen tree next to it.

The seed hits the ground. Inevitably. The wind begins to blow. Inevitably.

The leaves continue to shake, and the branches begin to do so too.

The tree aches. Its branches are weak and weary.

A bird flies in from the distance, unseen by the forest. It lands in the branches of the tree. Mercifully, the bird steadies the movement of the branch – for a moment, at least. The tree is grateful – for a moment, at least.

The bird eyes a seed on the ground. It swoops down and collects it in its beak. The tree groans. Its branches begin to shake again. The bird sings. The tree is vengeful – for a moment, at least.

The bird flees the forest. The seed escapes its grip. It begins to fall. Again.

The sun begins to set. The shade begins to cover the tree. The tree is cold. It wills unsuccessfully – always unsuccessfully – for warmth.

Night falls. The tree grows.

Day comes. The tree wakes, thankful for the rest of the night.

Another tree falls. Another seed falls. Another bird returns.

The sun sets again. The tree wishes for warmth again.

Night falls again. The tree strengthens. It stands.

Day begins. Night begins. Day again. Night again.

The tree looks on. It wishes for the breeze and the bird and the warmth of the sun and the peace of the night.

The tree falls.

The tree hits the ground.

The forest grows.